When faced with disaster, veterinary practices need a plan


In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, all veterinary practice owners should make disaster plans a priority, expert says.

She considers herself lucky; her family only lost power in their home. "The practices in South Jersey are a mess," says Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, owner of Veterinary Business Advisors located in Flemington, N.J. She worries not just for the local practices but for any practice that faces a disaster unprepared. "I suspect most practices don't have a disaster plan."

Dr. Charlotte Lacroix

No one wants to think about the worst-case scenario, but according to Lacroix, even the landlocked, the confident and the hopeful can't simply bury their head in the sand. Every practice must have a disaster plan, Lacroix says. "It addresses all those issues that are important when Mother Nature strikes."

And she makes it hard to make excuses—even for those who aren't in high-risk areas. "A disaster plan could be for fire. A fire could happen to anybody," Lacroix says.

>>> Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent "superstorm" ravaged the Northeast after it made landfall Oct. 29. Rebuilding may cost billions.

First, don't try to reinvent the wheel. Lacroix advises that owners simply Google "disaster plans for veterinary hospitals." More than a million results will populate. "You can use them as good templates from which to start," she says.

She also encourages owners to delegate. "Empower your staff to do it," Lacroix says. "Designate a committee and give them four months to do it and debrief you on a monthly basis. They'll feel empowered and like they're making a difference."

Finally, Lacroix wants veterinarians to take a dose of their own medicine. "We expect our clients to come in for preventive care, but we're not very good at taking care of ourselves," she says. "Vaccinate your hospital for a disaster."

How to prepare for disaster

> Business, interrupted. "It's a good idea to look into business interruption insurance," Lacroix says. Even if your practice isn't actually forced to close because of a disaster, a trip to the veterinarian may not be a priority for pet owners during that time. The return to normalcy is often a long, drawn-out process. "Your clients may be in a disaster for months—it's delayed and delayed," she says.

> A plan that pays. Plan for employee pay in the case of a disaster—you don't want to lose employees because you can't pay them. Lacroix says many team members are willing to take paid—or even unpaid—vacation in difficult circumstances. She also recommends that employees file for unemployment. Those affected by Sandy may be eligible for disaster unemployment assistance as well.

> Risk and responsibility. "If you're in a high-risk zone, you have to acknowledge the risk that you're subject to," Lacroix says. She says practice owners in a risky area who don't have an emergency plan face the possibility of being found negligent after a disaster if animals in their care are harmed.

> Accepting assistance. "Take advantage of government benefits that are given out," Lacroix says. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is one source, but private organizations may offer assistance as well. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation provides grants to facilitate disaster preparedness and training as well as grants for restoration of veterinary infrastructure not covered by insurance. There are also grants for those who treat animal victims of disaster. Go to avmf.org for grant applications.

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